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What Is Behind Trump’s Letter to Assad on Missing American Journalist?

Aug. 17, 2020 (EIRNS)—It is unusual that the President of the United States would make a personal appeal in an eight-year-old missing persons case, but that’s what President Donald Trump did in the case of Austin Tice, the American journalist who disappeared in Syria in 2012. According to statements by both the White House and the State Department issued on Aug. 14, Trump wrote a letter in March to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad seeking information on Tice’s whereabouts.

That the letter might have been about something more could be guessed from the response issued yesterday by Dr. Bouthaina Shaaban, Presidential Political and Media Adviser to President Assad. In an interview with Al Mayadeen TV, Shaaban didn’t mention Tice, but reportedly laid out the conditions for talks between Washington and Damascus. “It is not possible to give up our land and our country, and it is not possible to talk with the occupier until after his departure from Syria, from our land,” she said, reported Al Masdar. Ending the U.S. military occupation of eastern Syria is something that Trump has tried to do at least twice since late 2018, but always got pushback from the Washington national security establishment and the Defense Department.

Less than 24 hours after her interview, reports emerged of a violent encounter between a U.S. patrol and Syrian troops at a checkpoint outside of Qamishli in northeastern Syria. Reports in both Al Masdar and Western media initially said that the U.S. patrol tried to force its way through the Syrian army checkpoint, that Syrian troops fired in response, and that an air strike by helicopters in support of the Americans then killed at least one Syrian and wounded two others. The U.S. military command in Baghdad in a statement denied that there was any air strike, saying that the patrol had been fired upon by individuals in the vicinity of the checkpoint and the American troops had returned fire in self-defense. Video of the incident posted on social media clearly shows a helicopter hovering nearby.

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